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Jul 21 2017

Celebrating "The Fifth Element"

by Seán McGovern

Occasionally I receive a text message from my mother thatThe Fifth Elementis on television.Why she feels the need to tell me,I'm never quite sure.Possibly because my adoration for the film is palpable,or because she like many critics at the time believes that it "may or may not be the worst movie ever made."ButThe Fifth Elementdoes not need to be defended.It can only be celebreated.AsValerianlaunches from the imagination of Luc Besson into cinemas everywhere,now is the perfect time to celebrate France's greatest foray into a very American genre: the intergalactic sci-fi action movie.

There's a blonde Bruce Willis,Leeloo Dallas Multipass and of course - Ruby Rhod - all after the jump...

Luc Besson created the entire world in his head,two years before Star Wars.Between the ages of 16 to 25 he let the ideas swirl."I was living outside of Paris,sixty kilometers from Paris.No TV.No V.C.R.Very much in the country,and not so many friends.It was pretty boring for an adolescent.So I started to invent this world where I can be a wild cab driver [Willis's character,Korben Dallas].It was just a way to escape at first."

And what a world: A towering city of sky scrapers,the remnents of the past are the desolate and abandoned streets of the another age.Luxury space tourism.The tongue-in-cheek prescience of an age we're lurching toward: playing God through 3D-printing.The daily grind to afford your teeny-tiny apartment. Rampant consumerist choice in a high-security police state.The greatest villains are wicked ultra-rich weirdos,an empire built on total destruction.

When Francis Ford Coppola was makingBram Stoker's Draculahe wanted the costumes to be so prominent that they were almost the set.Similarly in Besson's futuristic vision,he enlisted the work of enfant terrible - and creator of every twink's favourite fragrance - Jean Paul Gautier.The sci-fi action genre let his imagination run wild.FromLeeloo's infamous white straps,the sexy space ship hostesses,bleach blonde Bruce in a tightly fitted orange tank top(yum),the Diva Plavalagunaandeverything Chris Tucker wears. Name me a movie with more iconic looks.I'll wait.

Not only is Leeloo a "perfect"being and elemental to the Earth's survival,she's also highly intelligent,kicks some serious ass and will reignite your affinity for the color orange.Her performance rests on a knife edge between being completely crazy,but in a way,totally human.

I want to arrive at the point where Leeloo will say,"What's the use of saving lives when you see what you're doing with it?"- Luc Besson

Jovovich was just 19 years old whenThe Fifth Elementcame into her life and it tooka few attemptsto know she was right for the role.She collaborated with Besson again - first by marrying him - and secondly onThe Messanger: The Story of Joan of Arc.The Fifth Elementdefinitely set her up as an action star - but the less said about theResident Evilfilms - and the work of her subsequent husband - the better.

As we revisit what makes this film so singular,the last 20 years have only allowed Chris Tucker's Ruby Rhod to become so much more significant.In the years immediately after its release,Ruby Rhod often ended up on "Most Annoying Character..."lists (and take a guess as to who usually compiles these).But RR is not Jar Jar.He is by far the most transgressive creature in this world of fantasy.How exactly Tucker gave life to this character is probably down to a combination of brazen playfulness and what happens to someone head-to-toe in Gaultier couture.Ruby Rhod is a larger than life: a flamboyant,leopard print wearing,superstar radio DJ.He is relentlessly queer in the most undefinable way: crossing gender norms while thrusting his macho sex-appeal.Tucker saidhe was inspired by a combination of Prince and Michael Jackson- not a stretch of the imagination considering Prince was offered the role.And while I think Ruby Rhod is one of the greatest characters in 90s action cinema (or 90s cinema in its entirety),it is for good reason that some commentators have drawn comparisons to the offensive "Magical Negro"tropes of early 20th century cinema.Saeed Jonesmakes note of this in a piece forLamda Literary- weighing up these reservations while noting that upon first viewing "Ruby was a kind of man I thought would only be possible light years into the future: funny,black,attractive,fierce and – most importantly – alive by the end of the movie."And that might be why the character is so disruptive - For queers in this future,there isn't just one way to be.

Do you remember the first time you saw it?Rants and raves in the comments below.

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Reader Comments (10)

I saw this in middle school.Was one of my favorite films and I still enjoy it a lot

I'm a fan and have been for so long,it's kind of a bit nostalgic for me;so can't exactly criticize it piece by piece (and who would want to for this type of film?Just go with it and have fun)

July 21,2017 | Unregistered CommenterHuh

Such a fun film.Probably one of the most unique films I have ever seen.I think it is a film that has inspired my desire to see films that take a lot of risks even if they miss the mark because I'd rather see an interesting failure than watch a dull film that does everything right.

July 21,2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

I fucking love this film.It's one of my all-time favorites as it's just silly,exciting,and goddamn fun.Plus,I just love hearing Chris Tucker scream like a girl.

July 21,2017 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

The blue alien opera!

July 21,2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

'It can only be celebrated'.Nah.Not even close.It's a hard no from me,and here's why:

July 21,2017 | Unregistered CommenterEz

It was one of the very few sci-fi films I really enjoyed watching.The moment Ruby stepped in defined that we are in for a joyride.

July 22,2017 | Unregistered Commentermykeskye76

Glenn: All these years later,and part of me still believes that blue alien diva is Jim Carrey in drag.

July 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrevity

The story is terrible but the visuals are stunning- specially that singing blue alien.The villain is childish and annoying

July 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

My favorite movie of 1997 tbh.

July 22,2017 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

The more I think about it,"The Fifth Element"may very well be,"The Rocky Horror Picture Show"of the 90s.One of the most enjoyable and rewatchable films of all time.

July 24,2017 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

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